Mon, 08 August

Club Legend: Paul O’Brien helping make Ballyfermot De La Salle beacon of the parish

DLS are showing great  progress with O’Brien at the helm as GPO

 Ballyfermot DLS GPO Paul O'Brien

BUSTLING Ballyfermot. The streets are busy, Full of friendly greetings. Paul O’Brien knows these parts well. Born and reared. He bought a house on the road where he grew up. “I didn’t stray too far,” he smiles. He’s waiting up at the Ballyfermot De La Salle clubhouse. It’s a neat structure; dressing-rooms, showers, toilets, a gym. And a packet of biscuits for the cup of tea.

Outside in the park, people are jogging or walking the dog. The club’s home pitch, Gurteen Road, right in the centre of the community.

Paul is the club’s GPO, and he manages the AFL 7 team. They have been making impressive strides. In the last five years, they have moved up from the AFL 11 ranks.

He loved sport at school. “I’d give everything a go,” he recalls. He played his early football for the club. “And now, I’m back again,” he quips.

It’s been an interesting journey. “The Ballyfermot team I was on just fizzled out around under-14 or U-15 level, so I didn’t play Gaelic football for a couple of years,” he explains.

He also played soccer, joining Bluebell United of the Leinster Senior League. They enjoyed much success, winning leagues, cups and reaching the quarter-final of the FAI Cup in 2000, losing in a replay to Shelbourne.

Successful

“That was the successful Shelbourne team managed by Dermot Keely. They won the double that year. They had players like Pat Fenlon, Paul Doolin, Stephen Geoghegan and the Baker brothers. We played both games in Tolka Park and it was a memorable experience,” recalls Paul.

“I was also playing senior football with Ballinteer St John’s then, and you couldn’t really juggle the two, so I stuck with the Gaelic.

“I joined Ballinteer from Good Counsel. A couple of the lads from Ballyfermot had joined Counsel, so I ventured down with them. I was a second-year minor at the time. I had four or five years there.

“I followed Tom Mulligan to Ballinteer. Tom was a good friend of mine. I joined Ballinteer the year after Tom. They had a fine side. A good group of players were there at the same time.

“First-class footballers, and then we had the lads who were playing for Dublin under Tommy Lyons – Coman Goggins, Johnny McNally and Tom.

“We did well at Ballinteer. Kieran Brennan and Brian Goggins were there, and we had some good runs in the championship. You always judged your summer on if you were still in the championship or not.

“Dublin football was very competitive, but the Dublin team wasn’t as successful as they have been in recent years. They were knocking on the door.”

In 2003, Ballinteer reached the Dublin Senior Football Championship semi-final. “We had a great run that year. We beat St Jude’s, Ballyboden St Enda’s and St Mark’s. We gave Kilmacud a good run of it in the semi-final. Kilmacud were such a strong side. They had the Magees and all those players,” recalls Paul.

Paul got to help nurture some of the county’s best young footballers as he coached the Dublin development squads, bringing through a group of players to minor level. Twice.

This season, he was part of Dublin minor manager Ger Lyons’ crew, with Derek Byrne, Dave Reynolds, David Moran and Fiach Andrews. They lost the Leinster final to Meath, who went on to win the All-Ireland.

Paul enjoyed the involvement. And that sense of bringing players through, helping them on the pathway to U-20 and senior level. He’s also enjoying life at Ballyfermot.

“We had a couple of lean years. There were days when we struggled to get a team on the pitch. But we re-grouped and the lads put a big effort in.

“In 2017, we won a treble. The following year, we won a double, so we have been progressing. And we hope to keep that progression going. We are competing, and that’s important because it helps to keep people interested.”

Dublin’s success was also a tonic for football in the locality. When the Dubs were in the All-Ireland final, the streets would be covered in flags and bunting. “That makes it easier when you go into the schools. The kids can relate to you that bit easier,” notes Paul.

Massive

Ballyfermot De La Salle have 17 teams now. “That’s down to a lot of groundwork. We work closely with the schools. And when you get the backing of the schools, that makes a massive difference.

“The nursery is thriving. We have over 150 kids there now, which is great to see. We re-branded it. We call it ‘The GAA Bear Cubs’. We got a mascot. We made it fun. And we are delighted with the reaction. It’s making such a big difference to us.”

It was back in 1953 the club was formed by the parish priest, Canon Troy. He was from Kerry. And hence the club colours are green and gold.

He would be happy with what’s on view today. “Things are going well. We are going in the right direction. We also have pitches in Markievicz Park and California Hills, but here is our home from home.

“We always get a good crowd coming to watch us here. It’s right in the heart of things. The adult squad have been working very hard in the last few years. And it’s great to see them getting rewarded.”

With Paul wearing the bib, they are sure to keep climbing up Ballyer’s golden stairway.